It’s been a long time since I’ve written a post about snack foods. Over the years, I’ve written a number of different blog posts about making snack foods, but for some reason I haven’t written a new one in years.
In the past, I’ve written about the low-cost snacking wonder that is popcorn, and how incredibly good DIY salsa can be. Both are great snacks that can be healthy and ultra affordable… as long as you skip the over-priced commercial products.
For some reason, my DIY snack posts never seem to be terribly popular with the readers of this blog. Perhaps it’s because snacks are synonymous with laziness and convenience, and people just can’t get jazzed-up about spending a few hours DIYing their own snack-foods!
Most people would rather buy a bag of pre-popped corn, or a jar of salsa from the store and pig-out in front of the TV.
Oh well, their loss! Not only are they paying outrageous prices for those ultra-convenient snack foods, but they’re also missing out on one of the best things life has to offer — The ability to customize your snacks to your own unique specifications.
It’s with this customization ethos in mind that I recently set-out to make my own jerky for the first time. You see, I love jerky, but I’m not terribly thrilled with the jerky options offered at the store. Most jerky comes in a few different flavors like teriyaki, a “peppery” version, hickory smoked, and so forth… but nothing I actually like.
Most commercial jerky products are pretty horrible. For one, that jerky is loaded with sugar and various chemical preservatives. That’s stuff I don’t really want to put in my mouth.
Yes, I know these days you can find “no sugar” or “organic” jerky at specialty stores, but it’s ridiculously expensive stuff. I’d never willingly pay that price if I had a choice!
This brings me to the second major point — OMG is jerky expensive! You can easily pay $2 or $3 per ounce for a good quality jerky. For just a teeny-tiny little bag of jerky!
That’s highway robbery! With this in mind, I set out on my latest culinary project — Making my own jerky!
Believe it or not, the process of making your own jerky at home is NOT difficult at all. After seeing the expensive prices in the store, you’d probably guess the process was complicated, required expensive ingredients, or needed some kind of specialized equipment that’s not readily available.
This couldn’t be further from the truth — Jerky is actually surprisingly simple to make. It uses very common ingredients available almost anywhere, and no real special equipment is needed (beyond a few basics like an oven, or a cookie sheet).
So why aren’t more people making their own jerky? Probably it’s like I said earlier — the convenience factor plays a huge part. Laziness wins almost every time.
The process of making jerky starts with a cheap lean cut of meat — usually something on sale at your local grocery store. In my case, I decided to make jerky using pork loin… because that’s what was on sale this week!
After purchasing the necessary flesh, it’s time make the marinade. There are literally thousands of jerky recipes online at various recipe sites like Allrecipes, JerkyHolic, or dozens of others on the internet. The recipes often use sugar (just like commercial jerky), but in my case, I dropped the sugar and used a non-sugar substitute instead.
After that, it’s time to trim-off any extra fat from your lean cut of meat, and then slice it thin! There’s several schools of thought on this process — some people believe you should cut with the grain, some believe you should cut across the grain. After trying both directions, I personally don’t think it makes that much of a difference.
What is important, is slicing the meat thin enough and soaking it in the marinade for a long time. Around 24 hours of marinating will impart LOTs of flavor. Don’t skim on the marinating time!
After marinating, it’s time to dry. I don’t have a fancy food dryer, so I just put mine in a convection oven at a very low temperature (175 degrees F).
4 hours in the oven and it’s dry! A cheap and delicious meaty snack, customized to my own unique specifications! It’s that easy!
Why Bother Making My Own Jerky?
Whenever I write blog posts like this, readers always ask the question “Why bother?”. “Why bother to make your own jerky? It’s just too much work!” or “You’re not saving enough to really move the needle on savings!”
Of course, those nay-sayers are entirely correct about the money. The savings from making my own jerky is NOT a lot of money. It’s probably less than $20 per batch.
But, they completely miss the point. Individually these little DIY endeavors don’t move the needle much with regards to saving, but collectively they do add-up. Remember: A millionaire is made $10 at a time!
Cutting costs isn’t about one big win that’ll save you thousands of dollars every month, it’s about the many little collective wins you can manage to scrape together over a lifetime.
To quote Carlos Sicupira of 3G Capital, “Costs are like fingernails: they always have to be cut.”
To understand this concept, just take a look at our last monthly spending report. We spent $411 on groceries in April. That’s it! People are often shocked by how little our family of 4 spends on food, but there’s no big secret. It’s just a lot of little wins put together. Day after day, month after month.
Many people don’t understand this, and that’s OK. Not everyone is going to understand. It’s really a mindset thing. Not everyone is going to have the same cost-cutting mindset that I do. For most people, laziness and convenience will win every time. That’s just the way their brains are wired. They’d rather buy Chinese take-out, than learn the skills and recipes to cook that same Chinese meal themselves.
For my part, I like to continuously challenge the status quo, drive down living costs, and improve our lifestyle. To do this, I run experiments all the time to try-out new things (like making my own jerky). Sometimes those experiments are total failures, and not worth repeating… but even in the failures I’m always learning something.
Occasionally the experiments are wins, and then I add them to my arsenal of cost-cutting skills and techniques. More often than not, I’ve found it’s better to DIY your own than to buy a typical packaged product from the grocery store. Packaged snack food is just super expensive, especially if you buy anything that’s considered “healthy”.
This is exactly why I’m also big on being a DIY investor — The standard investment products don’t work for me. So I DIY my own investments to get the specific investment qualities I desire.
So is it worth it to make my own jerky? Yes, for me it definitely is! But I’m also grading the outcome of this experiment on more than just dollars and cents. I wanted customizability and flavors I just couldn’t get at the store. I don’t mind spending an hour in the kitchen to do it either. For me, it’s a fun project with a delicious outcome!
The fact it saves me a little money is just a happy little bonus.
Now, if you’ll excuse me… I’m going to go snack on some homemade jerky!